More than a quarter century after Kristin Smart, a California Polytechnic State University student, disappeared after an off-campus party, Paul Flores, a fellow student, was convicted of murdering her, a jury in California announced on Tuesday.
A separate jury found his father, Ruben Flores, 81, not guilty of helping to hide the body. Ms. Smart’s remains have never been found.
The verdicts were announced in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif., capping a long-running case that began on May 25, 1996, when Ms. Smart left an off-campus party around 2 a.m. accompanied by Paul Flores. He later told investigators that he had walked her as far as his dorm, where they parted ways.
Friends who spoke to investigators reported that she was intoxicated, and that Paul Flores repeatedly told them that he could accompany her to her dormitory alone, because she needed support to walk, court documents say.
Ms. Smart, a freshman who was 19, was never seen again. A missing persons report was filed three days later.
The search for Ms. Smart ranged from remote areas of the campus to her dorm room in Muir Hall, where investigators found her wallet and reminders to turn in class work. A billboard seeking help in finding her was organized by her family. Paul Flores’s dorm room was searched and he was interviewed by investigators.
Ms. Smart’s family had their daughter declared legally dead in 2002.
Nearly two decades later, in 2021, the authorities described Paul Flores as a “prime suspect” and executed search warrants, including at his Los Angeles home. Investigators used dogs trained to detect human remains and ground-penetrating radar to search Ruben Flores’s property in Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Paul Flores was taken into custody at his home in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021, and was charged with murder during a rape or attempted rape. Ruben Flores was arrested at his home and charged with being an accessory after the fact.
Dan Dow, the San Luis Obispo County district attorney, said Paul Flores had “caused the death” of Ms. Smart “while in the commission of, or attempted, rape.” Ruben Flores helped to hide her remains, he said.
Paul Flores, 45, will face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 9, prosecutors said.
The trials of Paul and Ruben Flores were not live-streamed, but local media organizations covered them intensively over the last three months.
The trials had been moved about 140 miles north of San Luis Obispo to Monterey County, at the request of the defense team, because of the extensive publicity around the case.
In his closing argument earlier this month, a San Luis Obispo County prosecutor, Christopher Peuvrelle, told the court that Ruben Flores had helped his son by hiding Ms. Smart’s body under the backyard deck of his house.
Mr. Peuvrelle cited soil samples, a 6-foot-by-4-foot anomaly in the ground, blood staining, fibers that matched Ms. Smart’s clothing and alerts from cadaver dogs.
He also said that Paul Flores had been “hunting” Ms. Smart and had called his father to ask for help burying Ms. Smart’s body. Robert Sanger, Paul Flores’s lawyer, said there was a “missing person” but no evidence of a murder.
Harold Mesick, Ruben Flores’s lawyer, said there was no evidence that his client had tried to hide the body, KSBY reported.
“Paul Flores and his dad didn’t bury this woman,” Mr. Mesick said.
On Oct. 13, one juror in Ruben Flores’s case was dismissed for asking his priest for guidance because of the stress he said he was enduring, and a new juror was sworn in, resetting the deliberations from the beginning, KSBY reported.
In July, Ms. Smart’s parents and her brother, Matt, testified about their search for Ms. Smart after she disappeared.
“For the next 25 years, I did whatever I could and looked for answers wherever I could,” Denise Smart, Ms. Smart’s mother, told the court, according to the local CBS affiliate in Sacramento.
Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.